Trial Tips

Having read Matt Gee’s excellent article on Audition Technique in the BTS summer issue, I thought I’d have a stab at writing a few words about the next stage: Trials.  If you’ve followed Matt’s programme, or however else you’ve done it, and a Trial with an orchestra has come your way, here are just a few thoughts on how to deal with this next level.  Obviously, this is therefore aimed at young professionals who are embarking on their first or second Trials, as a sort of point in the right direction.  For me to comment on anyone with any more experience than that would be utterly wrong, as they’ll have gained their own thoughts by then.   And to call this article Trial Technique would be wrong too, as there’s no such thing; the factors vary so hugely from orchestra to orchestra and from trialist to trialist.

It’s a tricky day, that first day with a new orchestra.  You’ll have met some of the section in your audition, and you do know that they at least approve of what you did that day, so that’s a comforting start.  Without going into a blow-by-blow account of every moment on trial, let’s make things simpler.

There are no rules; as I said earlier, each individual, orchestra and situation is different, but the first and last advice I can offer is Be Yourself.  I promise it isn’t worth being anything else.  Pretence isn’t going to do anyone any favours, and will just falsify the Trial process, for you even more than for them.

On a much lighter note, be musically amenable.  Adaptability is such an asset.  If the conductor asks the section to do something in a different way, just do it.  If you’re on trial on Principal, lead that difference;  if you’re on trial on 2nd or Bass, follow the Principal.  Concentrate and be part of the section.  That’s what the whole aim is, after all.  So much of this is common musical sense.

Along with musical amenability, there’s that wonderful thing called Radar.  Radar is one of the ways a section plays together, reacts, and even musically thinks together.  That was one of my many joys of freelancing: to go into different sections and adapt to their own way of playing, which could be very wide-ranging.  Note lengths, articulation, style, even the entire attitude to playing, it’s all variable and fascinating.  If you can try and learn this kind of communication, it’s a huge bonus.  And this is not something you’ve either got or you haven’t; it’s learnable.  Just listen and react.  

Buy a pencil.  If something is suggested to the section by the conductor, mark it in.  If you make a mistake, something trivial, it doesn’t matter, mark it in, then you know it won’t happen next time.  Therefore you’re genuinely enhancing the section, and being seen to do so.  They’re 49p in Rymans. Beat that.

Try not to show off.  This is a difficult one.  You probably don’t mean to, you’re probably full of beans, desperate to show that that audition was nothing compared to what you can really play, and it probably wasn’t.  We’ve all felt that way, and it’s very difficult not to play your heart out backstage.  After all, you’ve done really well, you’re on trial with a real professional orchestra, it’s a euphoric  feeling.  By all means stick a practice mute in in your hotel room and play Bluebells for hours.  Or even find a remote corner of the venue and blow a few uplifting tunes to yourself.  But backstage, I’m sorry to say, it sounds like bravado, and that is not a good idea.  It’s doubly not a good idea because your Trial has 2 purposes.  One is to get the job, which may happen, but can only happen to one person.  The second purpose, which I would say is a more important reason for doing a good Trial, is to get another booking with the orchestra, to try and get some more work, get a place on the extra list.

The question of sociability often comes up.  Join in afterwards as much or as little as you like.  A student asked me if he should go with the chaps to the pub.  I said yes, and if he didn’t want to have a beer, they’d respect that.  If they didn’t then maybe it wasn’t the band for him anyway.  Be Yourself.

Matt Gee’s advice on preparation holds just as true for trials.  There’s nothing wrong with getting hold of the music beforehand.  All orchestras have libraries, just phone them up and they’ll send copies to you.  

One quick tale, just to endorse Matt’s audition advice.  A player in a London band had a Bolero to do as part of his trial.  For weeks before the show, he sat in his room at home, started the record from the beginning, sat there through all the other solos, then came in, in real time, and played the trombone solo.  I happened to be sitting next to him in the orchestra when he came to do it for real, he played it immaculately and got the job.  

There’s a tricky situation if you’re on trial for a Principal job.  At certain times in the repertoire, the section will appreciate a lead from the front.  The last chord of the 1st movement of Tchaik 6, maybe, or there’s a great example in on Don Juan.  But please don’t overdo this.  A trialist who overleads will be seen as either cocky or insecure .  My advice would be to underdo it, and then if one of the section asks you to lead something, you’re doing OK.  The best leaders just do it effectively, and only if it’s needed, which isn’t often.

If you’re on trial on 2nd, the Radar is a huge thing, and listen like hell.  If you’re on trial on Bass, obviously hang on the tuba’s every note, their tuning and sound and balance, try and match up to all of that.  Then you can start reacting to the double basses, cellos, timps and bassoons.  Nothing to it really!

 I hope this and Matt’s article will of some help to people in the process towards becoming working professional orchestral trombone players.  There’s much more to it, of course, and other players will have a lot more ideas and advice to offer; this is just a tip-of-the-iceberg version from me.

One last thing: in the Trial situation, only one person can get the job.  If it isn’t you, do try to take it in your stride.  Remember that the Trial was also a chance to look after future prospects. So try not to get too frustrated.  As a freelancer, every date you ever do is a Trial anyway, so treat it all the same, just do as well as you can, Be Yourself and enjoy it.

Dan Jenkins

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